Black History Month – Anti-racism at Work
The University is a diverse and welcoming community, but improvements can still be made when it comes to being actively anti-racist, as highlighted by the recent developments in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. The issues raised in this blog are important all year round, but Black History Month gives us a chance to shine a spotlight, especially on issues that may arise in the workplace. Having looked at the toolkit created by the mental health charity ‘Mind’, we have drawn out some key points that would be useful to think about when at work on campus.
Toolkit available at:
Microaggressions are unfortunately very common in many workplaces. Someone may say something that makes someone else feel uncomfortable or offended, in a way that was entirely unintentional. It’s important to educate yourself so you know what’s appropriate or not appropriate to say to people.
A useful article that explains this issue from the BBC: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180406-the-tiny-ways-youre-offensive—and-you-dont-even-know-it
What does it mean?
“Microaggressions are everyday slights and indignities some people encounter all the time – while others aren’t even aware they’re committing them” (BBC). For example, asking a non-white colleague in a mostly white workplace: “So, where are you from? …No, I mean, where are you really from?”. Whether it’s a misjudged question, a brief comment or an action – although it may have just been an insignificant moment in your day, for the person you said it to, it can have a big impact.
Why does it matter?
“A slow accumulation of these microaggressions can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of alienation and eventually even mental health issues, researchers warn. They can also create a toxic work environment.” (BBC)
To some people, it may seem like ‘political correctness gone mad’, but to people of colour who experience these issues as part of their daily life it can be extremely frustrating and draining. It’s important to respect the fact that, if you’ve offended someone or made them feel uncomfortable, they may have had very different experiences to you that you need to try and be understanding of.
What you can do?
As the person who has committed the microaggression (maybe without realising):
“If someone calls you out on something that has offended them, don’t get emotional or defensive. Be patient, hear them out, ask what you said or did so that you can better understand what the person is saying” (BBC). It’s important to try not to centre the issue around yourself – instead try to understand why what you said was wrong and remember not to make the same error again.
As a bystander:
Be a good Ally to your colleagues – don’t be complicit. If you hear something said to your colleague that you know wasn’t quite right, say something. Don’t be aggressive – the person may not have intended to be offensive and are more likely to take on board the information if you explain calmly how what they said was wrong. Comfort the person it was said to and check that they are ok.
As the person it has been said to:
It’s not your responsibility to be constantly reminding people what’s appropriate to say. If you feel like you can, gently tell people and try to explain why what they said was harmful – they really might not have meant to offend you. By explaining to them, it will hopefully mean they won’t do it again. If you don’t want to tell them yourself, talk to your manager who can then have a word for you. If you are being made to feel uncomfortable at work or comments are harmful, contact your line manager or the Campus Jobs team.
It’s important that you look after your mental health – contact the universities counselling and wellbeing service for support: https://www.reading.ac.uk/essentials/support-and-wellbeing/counselling-and-wellbeing
Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination is #NeverOK – this webpage set up by the University advises how you can report it.
Remember that race is just one aspect of a person’s complex identity – intertwined with other aspects like gender, disability or sexuality. Therefore, some people may experience discrimination or prejudice from multiple directions. For example, a black, disabled woman’s experience may be very different to a black man’s. Kimberlé Crenshaw highlights the importance of recognising intersectionality: https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality
As allies to the black community, non-black people need to educate themselves instead of waiting for black people to do the work for them. There is so much material available in many different forms, so there’s no excuse not to! Expand and diversify your reading list, by seeing what is available online or at the library. Here are some suggestions:
Alternatively, if you’ve already got loads of reading for your course, you can watch some educational TV programmes, documentaries, or even just by engaging with relevant material on social media. For example: ‘Things not to say’ BBC 3 series of videos – the clips are only 6 minutes long, with people of colour discussing their own experiences of everyday prejudices. Available on Youtube Here (Contains some inappropriate language/topics)
Netflix has also created a Black Lives Matter collection.
Furthermore, you can get involved with some of the activities and events RUSU are advertising for Black History Month!
Upcoming event: ‘Black History Month: Be Visible. Be Brilliant. Be You’
There is also a Black History Month event specifically related to careers taking place on Thursday 29th October from 18:00-20:00. There are some great speakers (see below) attending the event and our RUSU Bame Officer, Ruth Adeniyi will be chairing. The event will be taking place via zoom (all details on MyJobsOnline Here).
Join our diverse panel of students, and professionals to hear about their career journeys, the internal and external barriers they have overcome and how they have achieved success. The focus of this event will be on exploring experiences of recruitment and transition into professional workplaces, and the impact of ethnicity and cultural identity. Our speakers come from a range of backgrounds and sectors and are keen to share their insights with you and answer any questions you may have.
Do not miss this incredible opportunity to:
– Ask questions and have discussions in a warm, collaborative environment;
– Connect with new people from variety of backgrounds;
– Grow your network.
Charlynn Koranteng, Recruitment Officer – London, Student Recruitment, KPMG Business Services
Tolu Ogunlaiye, Senior Graduate Recruiter and University Partnerships Consultant, FDM Group
Marcus – Recent Maths Graduate
Summayah – Finalist Philosophy placement student
Hodaviah – Part two School of Biological Sciences student
Chinwendu – On placement, Food & Nutritional Sciences student.
Engaging with people of colour and educating yourself about their history and different experiences will help you to be more understanding, both more generally as well as when you’re at work. Take time to think about the privilege you may have, and how it affects your understanding. Here at Campus Jobs, we aim to educate ourselves on issues faced by people of colour and do everything we can to make campus a safe and enjoyable place to work.
Blog and graphics created by Lucy Harwood, Campus Jobs Team